Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared podcast “crash courses” in food, TV, cyborgs, what have you. Today I offer a handful of music podcasts that cover lots of ground—hip-hop, indie, classical, classic rock—but all of them enhance my musical knowledge while occasionally inspiring me play the air drums in my Honda.
Enjoy, and holler if you think I missed anything:
Podcasts that focus on the songs
With episodes dating back more than a decade, Coverville has been delivering podcasts since the medium emerged. In each ep, host Brian Ibbott shares an assortment of cover songs, usually arranged by a theme. I love how Brian keeps chatter to a minimum and plays each track all the way through, making his show perfect for a long commute, afternoon walk, or background noise while doing the dishes.
All Songs Considered / Tiny Desk Concerts
Anyone looking for a good music podcast could just start with NPR’s podcast directory. My favorite shows are All Songs Considered, in which Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, and other critics share must-hear new music; and Tiny Desk Concerts, in which up-and-comers make big sounds in a little office space.
This popular and long-running podcast provides a go-to spot to discover new electronic tunes and DJ mixes. Stick it in your ears at the gym, and you’ll be sweaty ‘n’ smiling in no time. (You can also download individual tunes for free at xlr8r.com.)
Podcasts that emphasize conversation
KCRW’s Guest DJ Project
How would you tell your life story in five songs? That’s the question this short ‘n’ sweet show poses, spotlighting music picks from folks like Anne Rice, Jonah Hill, and RuPaul. Sometimes, the choices aren’t what you’d expect; for example, actor Jim Parsons’ list includes Bach and Steely Dan.
The Eddie Trunk Podcast
I’m not a huge metalhead, but I love hearing Trunk share his knowledge of the genre in a very relatable, easy-to-understand way. Fans of his VH1 series, That Metal Show, should enjoy him here, where he often interviews heavy-hitters of metal’s glory days, like Dee Snider and Alice Cooper.
Ice T: Final Level
I don’t always listen to Ice T’s podcasts from start to finish—the Busta Rhymes ep lasts three hours!—but I always come away from them laughing and learning something about hip-hop’s history-makers. (The Kool Keith episode will crack you up, though use headphones if you listen at work.)
Turned Out a Punk
Punk fans may want to tune in to this show from host and musician Damian Abraham for interviews and insider chatter. I liked his convos with Tom Scharpling and Sloan’s Chris Murphy, but you should peruse the archive to see which guests strike your fancy.
Outside the Music Box
I’m a relative newcomer to James Newcomb’s podcast, which focuses on musicians’ creative processes and often spotlights classical and jazz artists. Episodes are intelligent and often surprising; one week he’ll talk about a jazz trumpeter, only to interview a prog rock expert the next.
The Air-Raid Podcast
What I like about Aaron Roden’s show is that he approaches artists from a fan’s perspective. The Seattle-based host has spoken to Mike McCready, Duff McKagan, Lou Barlow, Mudhoney, and hundreds of other talents, and though he’s always professional, sometimes I can’t help but feel a little nervous for the guy when he meets his ‘80s and ‘90s heroes.
Now that the BBC Radio show is between seasons, there’s no better time to catch up with host John Wilson’s interviews with musical greats. On top of live performances, each episode includes an “A-Side” (where Wilson asks the questions) and a “B-Side” (where his studio audience poses the Qs). The Ray Davies episode might be a fun place to start.
Hosted by Train frontman Pat Monahan, episodes feature freewheeling conversations with a variety of Pat’s pals, mostly musicians. Guests have included big names like Peter Frampton, John Oates, Sammy Hagar, and Paul Stanley, and while interviews can be a bit unstructured, the hook is the part where Monahan performs his guests’ classic songs with them.
From Nas to KRS-One to Prince Paul, host Shawn Setaro has amassed quite a roster of interviewees. Propelled by his curiosity and hip-hop expertise—Setaro is the former editor-in-chief of Rap Genius—his conversations go deeper than most other shows.
WTF with Marc Maron
Perhaps it’s an obvious choice, but some of Maron’s conversations with musicians are worth revisiting. At this point, he has talked to quite a few, including Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Gordon, and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Podcasts with expert opinions
I’m a longtime listener of this WBEZ radio show, in which Chicago’s most prominent music critics, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, discuss and debate music news, trends, bands, and anything else on their radar. This recent episode offers an excellent crash course in jazz, and in January they conducted a standout interview with Mary J. Blige.
The New York Times’s Popcast
Yep, even the Gray Lady has a podcast, and each week its critics spotlight emerging artists, notable albums, and notable headlines. Themes have ranged from the TV show Empire to Madonna to “the artistic value of music festivals.” The thread that connects each ep is the hosts’ expertise and analytical, yet accessible, approach.
Podcasts with great tales to tell
Want to hear fascinating and lesser-known music stories? Pitch is the place. My favorite episode involves how the “longbox” packaging for R.E.M.’s Out of Time changed the music industry, but the archive offers two seasons of coolness to choose from.
Thanks for Giving a Damn
This podcast from singer-songwriter Otis Gibbs just keeps getting better. The Nashville-based musician unlocks Music City’s secret history by talking with session musicians, journalists and experts about things you rarely hear about in mainstream publications. Start with this story about Paul McCartney’s time in Nashville or the riveting “Stringbean’s Last Song.”
Each detailed, beautifully produced episode allows musicians to share how one of their songs came together. The show allows us to hear tunes with fresh ears, and it does a good job of blending familiar artists with up-and-coming ones. My Morning Jacket, the National, Spoon, and Garbage have all been featured. My pick: The ep about a Ghostface Killah track.
A podcast with all of the above
Ask me to name my favorite podcast—and I listen to dozens upon dozens of them—and, without hesitation, I’ll say Who Charted?. Each Wednesday hosts Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack discuss a random music chart with a special guest. (On Fridays the hosts create their own charts that usually feature new tunes.) The result is funny, compelling, and endlessly informative, though the key to its success is the connection Kremer and Vilaysack forge with their fans. At this point, I feel like I know these two better than some of my own relatives.